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Frugal living as a Christian Discipline

What do you think of when you hear the idea of living ‘frugally?’ Do certain ideas or images come to mind? I’d have to say if you had asked me a few years back I’d say shopping at discount stores and penny pinching.


Yet now, I see it as a Christian Discipline. In some ways it’s saving money, yet it can also mean spending more money in certain areas. Overall, it’s a shift away from using shopping and spending to fill a void in our lives. It’s a whole lot of self-awareness to know that it’s not a certain (car, house, outfit, make-up line) to make us feel “enough.” Yesterday I scanned over a book I had been reading, “Abundant Simplicity,” and took note of a study Jan Johnson included. The study found that people’s main sources of well-being are friendships and a good family life, not possessions.

Take a look at this quote… “to practice frugality is to begin to believe that the most real stuff of life is never what we own; it’s our interaction with a living God with whom we partner to bless others.” (Jan Johnson) I added that to support the study above because a big point in both of those is that our lives are not about stuff. Yet, from other books I’ve read, I know that it is to a point. I put that in italics if in a way to show I write that with a delicate touch. In two books I read in the past (The Happiness Project & Your Money or Your Life) there was an idea shared that people need a certain level of money and material comforts to lead to happiness and fulfillment. In “Your Money or Your Life” that authors present a Fulfillment Curve to help readers decipher what leads to being “enough” in their lives, and then seeing what really can be categorized as being a bit overboard. All the stuff that is seen as being a bit too much actually leads to a downward trend of that fulfillment curve.


Ok, so if we need a certain amount to be fulfilled, how do we look at the stuff we do have? When we live frugally “…we become more content and grateful, relishing and managing well what we have rather than resenting what is missing.” I really liked this. It’s just a simple mindset shift. Yet, sometimes what seems simple is hard to do. Our brains are trained to see what’s missing, to see the deficit, to hone in on criticism. So just like Olympians, we have to train. Yet for us, it’s training our minds and hearts.


What are some things that help train our minds and hearts to live intentionally with what we have?


1) Get to know the facts. Do some research. Whenever I’ve traveled to other countries or read about stats on finances, I am blown away. That’s often the time I see all the excess we have. You see, when we compare to neighbors we might see we are behind or lacking in some way, but when we take a bigger picture approach, we see how lavishly we have it. In “Abundant Simplicity” Jan Johnson mentioned that the average yearly income in the world is $7,000. I don’t know about you, but that certainly puts things into perspective for me. This perspective we gain isn't feeling bad or guilty, it's just about having a broader view.


2) Practice Gratitude. I know, this seems the cure all for everything. But I have to tell you, it really is. If we are struggling in marriage, focus on the good. (Even the King of Marriage Therapy, John Gottman, has an entire chapter on this) If we are struggling in sports, focus on the good. If we feel like a crummy parent, focus on the good we're doing. Gratitude helps us in that perspective shift. We can see what we have, rather than what we are lacking.


3) Remind yourself that frugal living isn’t about penny pinching, it’s about coming into alignment with God. Frugal living is a Christian Discipline because it creates freedom. When many people hear the word “discipline”…freedom is not a word that comes to mind in their next passing thought. Yet, when we practice disciplines such as frugality it does create freedom because we’ve been intentional with our time and resources. We’ve been sure to seek God with what we have, so when opportunities arise we can follow God with our decision that’s not only based on how much money we will make.


4) It’s about our hearts, not about following the right budgeting plan. Listen up, I love budgets. I really do. Often times when I read about living frugally I see different budgets to follow or how to cut money back from your budget. In the approach I like to take, it’s not about that. Not that those things aren't important, but I feel like it’s missing the heart of the matter. It really is about our hearts. Because if we cut expenses and feel deprived while doing it, that’s not the point. It’s not about depriving yourself. It’s about seeking God with the next right thing in life and asking yourself what’s really important to you. It’s not about feeling guilty if you do buy something new. It’s about delighting in the gifts God has given you, being grateful for them, learning to have a generous heart, and being self-aware. All this will help lead to more fulfillment because you're no longer using all the purchases and "stuff" in life to be a healing balm. You're seeing life for what it is.


The discipline of frugality is about being really intentional with the resources we've been gifted. It's not about deprivation or guilt. It's about gaining awareness of what we really want, and then being brave to align our actions (and spending habits) with what we truly want. Happy rooting, everyone!

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